Experts React to a Row Over Jewish Children Rescued by Church

Doubts Raised About Alleged Vatican Document

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ROME, JAN. 11, 2005 ( A controversy has been brewing over an article in the Italian press that contends the Vatican tried to keep baptized Jewish children from rejoining their families after World War II.

It started Dec. 28 when Alberto Melloni published an article in Il Corriere della Sera entitled, «Pius XII to Nuncio Roncalli: Do Not Return the Jewish Children.»

The subheadline referred to an alleged document of the Holy Office, dated Oct. 20, 1946, which «reveals new aspects of a painful affair.»

The Corriere article cited an unpublished document that Melloni tracked down in France, regarding the conduct that the French clergy supposedly had in addressing the situation of children saved from the Holocaust.

The document, cited by the Corriere, will be inserted in the second tome of the fifth volume of the national edition of the diaries and working agendas of Pope John XXIII. The work is edited by the Institute for Religious Sciences of Bologna. The fifth volume is scheduled to be published later this year.

Melloni contends that Pope Pius XII transmitted «to Nuncio Roncalli,» through the Holy Office, «chilling orders» not to send saved Jewish children to Jewish organizations and not to return them to surviving parents, if they had been baptized. The nuncio referred to was Angelo Roncalli, the future John XXIII.

Melloni further contends that «the future John XXIII did not heed the orders that came from Rome and favored the return home of minors housed in French convents.»

The article triggered an enormous outcry. In an article published in Il Corriere on Dec. 29, Amos Luzzatto, president of the Italian Jewish community, said «that there will be problems in relations with the Jews, if proceedings continue for the beatification of Pius XII.»

On Jan. 4, again in Il Corriere, Daniel Goldhagen called for the establishment of an international commission to investigate the Catholic Church.

Some historians, however, observed that the article made no reference to the archive from which the document was supposedly taken, nor to the possibility to compare the nature and signature of the document in question. In fact, the document does not bear any signature.

Archbishop Loris Capovilla, 89, who was the secretary of the then nuncio in France, said in the daily Avvenire on Jan. 4 that «the attitude of the French Church and of Nuncio Roncalli himself was unequivocal: to save the lives of defenseless children, to give them safety with Catholic families who could care for them as their own children, to return the little ones to their original families once the latter had come forward.»

«Those children were saved from certain death,» Archbishop Capovilla said. «The families then transmitted to them that which for them was their dearest treasure, the Catholic faith, but without constrictions.

«The war over, it was then natural to screen the situations case by case, paying the highest attention to those who knocked on the door to reclaim the children: What should those families have done? Give the children raised together with their own to those who first presented themselves? The Church did nothing other than to counsel a rule of prudence, and to watch over the protection of the little ones.»

Archbishop Capovilla said that he was not aware of any case in which a Jewish child was impeded from knowing and re-embracing his own natural family.

In an article Jan. 4 in Avvenire, historian Father Giovanni Sale, of the Gregorian University, emphasized that «to describe Pacelli as anti-Semitic, to contrast him with Roncalli, and to desire a commission on the alleged non-restitution of Jewish children, is a provocation that also falsifies the historical truth.»

Given Goldhagen’s accusations on the alleged anti-Semitism of Pius XII and the Catholic Church, Father Sale stresses that «the real essence of modern anti-Semitism, as professed by Hitler and the fascists of the 20th century […] was not based on religious theories, but on eugenic-biological principles, which considered the Aryan race as superior and dominant.»

«Whoever knows Christian theology knows that the Catholic Church never approved such theories, which were at the origin of the Holocaust; rather, in several and solemn papal documents the latter were openly condemned, despite Hitler’s threats against the Church in Germany,» Father Sale continued.

Also in agreement with the historian is Giorgio Rumi, professor of contemporary history in the School of Classics and Philosophy of the State University of Milan.

He spoke in Il Corriere on Jan. 6 of the «anti-Catholic inquisition» and expressed concern that the Vatican directive on baptized Jewish children risked «unleashing a judicial use of history.»

Andrea Riccardi, lecturer on the history of Christianity at the III University of Rome, has spoken of «an operation of dark treatises.»

In an editorial Jan. 4 in Avvenire, Riccardi wrote: «Perhaps one should question oneself about treatises of an anti-Pacelli obsession that risks confusing the outlines of history and of criminalizing this Pope, while the true responsibilities of the tragedy of the Shoah are toned down.»

«In fact, it is a use of Pius XII that goes beyond history,» contended Riccardi. «Either he has become the symbolic figure of an old regime to be knocked down ritually or he has been made a scapegoat behind which to hide the degree of insensitivity that existed in addressing Jews also by institutions and governments lined up against Nazi-Fascism.»

Even Jewish historians Anna Foa and Michael Tagliacozzo have spoken out against what they consider to be errors in Melloni’s article.

On Jan. 2, Foa reviewed in the pages of Il Corriere della Sera the issue of the baptism of Jews, bringing to light the correctness of the Church, from Gregory the Great to John Paul II.

On Jan. 4, Tagliacozzo wrote in Avvenire: «Pius XII Kidnapper of Children? But Let Us Be Done with Such Foolishness!»

Tagliacozzo, considered the highest authority in regard the matter of the Jewish community in the capital during the Nazi occupation, has recounted how he found refuge in the Lateran, where, among others, the future Cardinal Pietro Palazzini often went. In December 1943, Palazzini told him: «Nothing has been successful.»

«I understood that, despite the Pope’s efforts, it was not possible to save the Jews of Rome,» Tagliacozzo explained. «Not all at least.»

In regard to the children taken in by Roman families, Tagliacozzo confirmed that «they were returned to their parents as soon as possible. Already during the war some Jewish associations and also Palestinian volunteers who were fighting with the Allies went through the Roman religious institutes in search of Jewish children who were being housed. They did not find them, simply because they were not there.»

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